How to Clean Paint Roller and Tray? (The Right Way)

cleaning paint roller and tray

Working with paint, paint brushes, rollers and trays can get so messy, that cleaning up is something you’d rather not deal with.

You might be tempted to just buy cheap paint rollers and trays with the intention of throwing them away after use.

Let me tell you, this is a big mistake! You should never compromise quality for convenience.

When painting your home, you have to use top-quality paints and tools to get your desired results.

Instead of throwing away paint brushes and rollers, just clean them so that they can be reused.

What follows are the right tools and steps by which you can easily clean and store your painting rollers and trays so that you can safely use them again for the upcoming paint season.

Tools and Materials Needed

Cleaning paint rollers, and tray requires using some tools and materials that you can easily find at home or buy from the store at a cheap price.

  1. Bucket
  2. Firm-bristle brush
  3. Paint brush comb (or painter’s comb)
  4. Putty knife
  5. Dishwashing liquid
  6. Paint thinners
  7. Newspaper
  8. Rags
  9. Container
  10. Plastic bag
  11. Empty jar
  12. Warm running water

How to Clean Paint Brush, Roller, and Tray?

After you have had all your cleaning tools and materials, it’s time to look at the steps for cleaning the roller, and tray after you have painted your walls and ceilings.

Let’s jump right in…

Step 1: Drain Leftover Paint into The Can

Don’t waste leftover paint in the paint tray. They can still be used for future projects.

Lean the paint tray against a wall to allow it to drain into the paint can.

This not only saves paint but also makes the paint tray much easier to clean.

Here’s a tip: After you put the lid on the paint can mark it with a small dollop of paint to show the color of the paint inside.

Put a label to show which room the paint was used for so that you can quickly identify it among other paint cans in your storage.

Step 2: Scrape and Recapture Excess Paint

Using a putty knife, scrape off the excess paint from the roller and the paintbrush back into the paint can.

Scrape off using long strokes and be careful not to drop dried bits of paint into the paint bucket.

Rollers hold more excess paint and you may not get them all off just by scraping.

What you need to do is to roll off more paint on a sheet of newspaper until it stops releasing paint.

If you are not yet finished painting the room and plan to continue painting the next day, don’t waste time and water cleaning the paint roller or paint brush.

Just place it into a plastic bag. This will keep the paint from drying.

Step 3: Cleaning your Brush and Roller

When cleaning your paint roller and tray, keep in mind that the process will depend on the type of paint you have used.

Since water-based latex paints are relatively easy to clean than oil-based enamel paints you should deal with them differently.

When used with water-based paint:

Brushes and rollers that have been used with water-based paint can be cleaned with water.

Simply rinse the paintbrush under running water. Spread the bristles using your hand so that you can remove the bulk of the paint.

The same principle applies to the roller.

To make it a lot easier to clean, remove the roller cover from the handle frame before washing it under warm running water.

Then put a few drops of dishwashing liquid in a bucket of warm water.

Submerge the roller and gently squeeze the roller from the middle out. Do the same thing from the other end.

You have to repeat the process until the water comes out clean and free from the paint. The process can take a while so be patient.

When used with oil-based paint:

Paint brushes and rollers that have been used with oil-based paint like primers and gloss cannot be cleaned in water.

You need to use mineral spirits like a white spirit. You can even use paint thinner or turpentine.

Fill an empty jar with up to three inches of thinner.

Dip the brush in the thinner and push it up and down until the paint starts to lift from the bristles.

Repeat the process until the thinner takes on the color of the paint.

Remove the brush from the thinner and wash it with dishwashing liquid.

Then rinse it in water so that it breaks down the thinner and the leftover paint from the brush.

For cleaning the roller, submerge the roller cover in a container filled with paint thinner.

Squeeze and agitate the roller cover to get as much paint off of it. This can take a while depending on the thickness of the paint.

Let the roller dry in a well-ventilated area for a few minutes.

Do not pour the thinner down the sink drain. Dispose of it properly following the instructions on the label.

Step 4: Softening the Roller

There are instances when your roller seems to be clean but still, you can’t use them.

The problem is generally due to the stiffness of the roller that doesn’t allow you to paint correctly.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix by using a fabric softener.

In order to use this method for softening paint rollers, you will require a fabric softener, a scraper, and a bucket filled with water.

  • Take the scraper and scrape off all the residual paint you can see on the roller
  • Take 2 gallons of water in a bucket and mix a cup of fabric softener, stir the liquid well
  • Allow the paint roller to sit in the bucket and stir it around for a minute or two
  • Finally, rinse the roller thoroughly with warm water and let it dry

While washing and softening your paint roller make sure you try to do it gently while being cautious you don’t cut in the roller.

In case you do, the roller will be much harder to clean and will not work the same way as you want it to be.

Step 5: Cleaning the Paint Tray

It is necessary to clean the paint tray because if you use it with old paint still in the tray, it could lift when used with fresh paint.

This means you could end up with lumps of paint skin streaking across the painted areas. So it’s important to clean the paint tray thoroughly.

First of all, drain the leftover paint from the tray.

For water-based or latex paint:

Let the paint dry completely in the tray.

Using your hand or a putty knife, peel the dried paint out of the tray.

Scrape those that cling onto the tray.

If you need to use the tray immediately, wash it in warm water with a drop of dishwashing liquid.

For oil-based paint:

Using a rag, wipe the paint tray clean.

Pour thinner onto the tray to loosen the dried paint, stain, or gloss varnishes.

Use a brush to work the thinner around the paint tray.

If necessary, use a putty knife to scrape off hard to remove paint that had already dried up.

Pour the solvent into an empty bottle and then wash the tray with warm soapy water.

Let it dry in a well-ventilated location.

How to Keep Your Paint Tray Clean?
Paint dries up fairly quick on a tray and you will always need to scrub the paint off when cleaning them after the paint job. If you really hate scrubbing paint off your paint trays, you can try covering the tray with a plastic bag before you pour the paint in. This will keep the tray clean and will also make them last longer.
how to clean paint roller tray

Other Paint Roller Cleaning Techniques for Quick Clean-up

Besides the above, there are a few other methods that can be used for cleaning your paint roller and cover.

You can use some of these methods by utilizing…

1- Roller Washer

A roller washer is an easy-to-use device that can help reduce the time spent on cleaning the roller simply by hand.

This works by attaching a hose to a faucet in your home. You will then need to slide the roller cover into the roller washer’s tube.

Turning on the water will automatically flush out the paint within a few minutes.

2- Pressure Washer

If you are painting your exteriors like your decking area or walls, using a pressure washer can be a quick way to clean up the paint roller and trays.

You can simply attach the roller to a long pole and make it stand against a wall or a wheelbarrow.

Then using a pressure washer spray off the roller quickly.

You will find it cleaned off within a minute or two.

3- Washing Machine

To clean the roller in a washing machine simply remove it from the roller cage and put the roller sleeve into your machine.

Allow the machine to clean the roller – on a cool wash mode.

Once cleaned allow it to dry naturally or use a roller spinner to dry them quickly.

If you want you can also use a clean old towel to dry a paint roller quickly.

Just stuff the towel edges into the damp roller and roll it up in the towel.

4- Roller Drill Attachment Cleaning Device

One of the best and easiest ways to clean a paint roller is by using a roller cleaner tool (like Roller Ready) that comes with a drill attachment.

Although most of the roller spinners for cleaning work by a hand pump action, there are few that attach to your standard cordless power drill.

With this kind of attachment (available in materials like plastic and aluminum), you can use a variable speed drill for removing the excess paint from your roller.

The good thing is – that by using this drill attachment tool, you can quickly clean and store paint rollers for reuse in the future.

How to Make Your Paint Roller Last Longer?

Worried about getting your pant rollers exhausted too soon?

Fret not, here are a few more tips you can follow to make them last longer…

1- Take a break

If you are painting your entire home, taking a break in between not only provides you good rest but can also help in keeping your roller nap soft and fresh.

The science behind this is you will not feel fatigued and will not try to finish the job aggressively.

Every time you return after taking a break you will deal with your roller calmly with a fresh mind.

2- Use a wet roller to paint

Yes, you should wet the paint roller with some water before you paint.

This will allow the roller cover to soak enough paint.

Make sure you do not do it excessively. Use the water to moisten the cover making it slightly damp.

3- Do not use a paint tray with dried paint in it

Even when the paint on the tray has been dried completely, there’s a chance that the flecks of the dried paint break off and get on the roller, the next time you want to paint.

These particles can be damaging to your foam roller sleeve.

Plus, these dried bits of paint particles can then stick onto your walls which can be hard to remove later.

Should You Clean and Reuse Paint Rollers OR Throw Away?

Reusing your paint rollers is not only sustainable but also profitable.

How many times can you reuse your paint roller will however depend on how you use it and how you wash them after every use.

Remember, a high-quality paint roller may last up to 5 cycles before it gets completely damaged and unusable.

But this will also largely depend on the quality of the sleeve cover and how well you clean them after you have done with the painting.

If you really want to get the maximum benefits out of your paint rollers and trays, it’s good to clean and reuse them 3-5 times before throwing them away.

Storing them right is also important if you want to reuse your paint rollers over and over without compromising the paint application quality.

After you have cleaned and dried the roller, make an airtight cover (using a plastic bag or wrap).

Then store the wrapped roller in a fridge so that it remains fresh for long.

This will also avoid the clinging of dust and lint particles onto the roller.

How to Know the Roller is Worn Out – When Should You Replace It?

Generally, you will find your roller sleeve leaving a more textured look (rather than a smooth clean coating) when you have used it about 4-5 times.

At times you will also notice that your roller “slides” instead of “roll” when you are painting the walls or ceiling.

Ideally, this is the confirmation that will tell you that your paint roller is worn out and it’s time to replace it with a new one.

In addition, you can check for these signs which will help you know the time when you need to replace the roller sleeve…

  • Slide on the wall instead of roll
  • Roller not getting cleaned perfectly
  • It takes enough time to clean the roller
  • Some paint and dullness still remain after the cleanup

The Bottom Line

To be honest, I personally use my paint rollers not more than 3 times.

Obviously, this is, when I clean them each time after I am done with the painting.

IMO, if you can’t clean your paint rollers or paint tray properly, you should not store them for future use.

And in this case, you will need to buy a fresh piece every time you want to paint.

Instead, if you can keep them clean and store them properly you can avoid replacing them more often.

This can save you a good amount of money, especially when you are considering house paint on a budget.

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